The Motionlab Active Commute is an innovative bag designed to keep weight off your shoulders, but isn't ideal for use on a road bike and could be better for more general use.
One of the elements of commuting by bike that can be a bit annoying is having to use a bag. It adds extra weight not only in terms of the additional weight to push forward, but also puts strain on your back and shoulders as you ride. The Motionlab Active Commute aims to remove some of that discomfort by redistributing the weight.
The way it works is by having a secure central column and a strong waist strap where the majority of the weight is held. This is then helped by a firmly held central clip holding the two straps together in front of your chest. It's all built around a metal frame to make sure the weight stays off your shoulders and on the waist strap.
It works well in this regard, as once I had spent around 20 minutes setting it up on my back it kept the top of the frame about three fingers above my shoulder and all the weight was taken by my waist and lateral forces on the straps. I've never used a bag like this before and it is impressive how the weight is shifted so significantly.
In order to set it up you need to set the height of the waist strap and adjust four straps holding the front straps in place. This is considerably more complicated than traditional bags, but Motionlab has a few useful videos online showing you how it's done.
Off the bike, the bag manages to maintain the weight distribution away from the shoulders. I did a couple of short runs with it as a test and it is noticeably more comfortable on the shoulders than a traditional bag, but in order for it to work effectively the straps need to be very tight, which caused me a bit of pain on the sternum from the large chest strap and a lot of pressure around the waist too.
On the bike it has mixed results. On a road bike, when you're quite stretched out, the weight doesn't all sit on the waist – some of it is repositioned to the thin central back pad, causing a little more pressure on the centre of the back than you would get with a regular bag. This is slightly exacerbated by the basic motion of road cycling if you rock laterally slightly as you pedal; the bag shifts sideways more than a regular bag would, as it sits further from the back with only a little support on the back itself.
I do most of my riding on a road bike, but I also tested the bag on a more casual bike with a more upright riding position. This alleviated the issue of weight distribution and kept the straps off my shoulders, but, as with running, in order to do so the straps had to be uncomfortably tight, which put quite a lot of additional pressure on my waist and chest.
I also found that on a few occasions when the bag was heavily laden, the top of the frame would bash my shoulders on rougher roads; this can be rectified through adjusting straps, but it is a bit of a faff to have to adjust the bag depending on what's inside it. It also means that the already tight straps need to be even tighter for a heavier load, meaning even more pressure on the chest and around the hips.
The frame also means the bag isn't particularly practical for use between commutes, because you can't just sling it on your back – it always needs to be done up to sit comfortably. I would lock my bike 100m down the road from my office then have to fully strap up or have the frame uncomfortably sat on my shoulder for a two-minute walk.
The bag does come with regular straps, but using them requires entirely dismantling the frame, which takes 20+ minutes of fiddly strap removal without instructions, which Motionlab is in the process of creating.
Inside the bag there is loads of useful storage and I found that I could fit everything I needed for the day within it. There are two large main compartments, a shoe compartment, pockets for tablets and laptops and two small front pockets in addition to a pouch on each side of the bag. It's an impressive and diverse range of options.
Weight-wise, it's surprisingly light given the amount of metal used throughout the frame. At 1,160g it's lighter than many larger traditional bags, such as the Craft Cadence at 1,230g, although the similarly sized Altura Thunderstorm is 760g, but doesn't have the same kind of robust internal structure.
It's an expensive bag too, even if it does have some unique selling points. The Craft Cadence is £69.99, the Altura Thunderstorm £79.99.
Overall, I have mixed feeling about this bag. It has some strong points in terms of engineering and having it kept off the shoulder is impressive, but its design doesn't lend itself well to road cycling, and to make it work properly when running or riding a casual bike requires excess tightening of the straps. It has some great storage options and plenty of pockets for everything you need, but it would be nice if it was a little more practical for day-to-day use.
Innovative bag for casual riding or walking/running, but expensive and not as versatile as some
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Motionlab Active Commute bag
Size tested: 22 litre, 15in laptop
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Motionlab says, 'The world's first backpack to take all the weight off your shoulders'
This is pretty accurate, as the weight is completely removed from your shoulders and is repositioned on your hips and chest.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Motionlab lists these features:
No weight on shoulders
Better posture and lower risk of back/spine injury. Straps sit completely clear of shoulders and loads feel considerably lighter.
Revolutionary wraparound design for superior stability and balance, with patented BreathEZ buckle technology for comfort. Bag moves with you however you move without constraining your movements or breathing.
Cushions impact forces and extends and compresses to mirror movements of your own spine to move with you, not constrain you.
Mirrors the human body, flexing, twisting and extending for complete freedom of movement without pulling the hip-belt up off your hips.
Holds bag off your shoulders and away from body for a feeling of weightlessness. Minimal contact with back for airflow cooling, and no sweaty back.
Places all the load on the hips where the body is designed to carry load. Never gets pulled off the hips, unlike traditional packs.
It is well made with a secure frame keeping everything in place as it should, with robust zips, and tons of storage areas.
It's better on a more upright riding bike; on a road bike, where you're leaning forward, the weight distribution shifts slightly and makes it a little uncomfortable.
Well made and likely to last a long time.
A surprisingly low weight for a bag with the strength of frame it includes, but still heavy overall.
Off the bike and on those with a more upright position this is okay, but it does put a lot of pressure on your hips and chest. On a road bike the weight is redistributed so you have these same pressures combined with more contact on a smaller area of the back.
Difficult to score against others, with its unique elements, but it's pretty steep given some of its design features and the impracticality of using it as a regular bag.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Mixed; off the bike for short runs and walking it's good for keeping the weight better distributed, but on a bike, especially a road bike, it moves a little too much and puts a lot of pressure on your chest.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
It is innovative and there is something quite magical about wearing a bag without it touching your shoulders.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Its use on a road bike; the design isn't optimised for a flatter-backed riding position.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
The Craft Cadence bag is £69.99 and the similarly sized Altura Thunderstorm is £79.99, though neither have the same kind of innovative design to keep the bag off your shoulders.
Did you enjoy using the product? Not for road cycling.
Would you consider buying the product? No
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Probably not, and definitely not for road cycling.
Use this box to explain your overall score
It's better for off-the-bike activities, and for more casual riding positions, but the design that works vertically loses some of its sparkle on a road bike. It's also not very practical for day-to-day use, and it's expensive.
About the tester
I usually ride: Cinelli Gazzetta My best bike is: Cannondale Supersix Evo
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking
George spends his days helping companies deal with their cycling commuting challenges with his company Cycling for Work. He has been writing for Road.cc since 2014.
When he is not writing about cycling, he is either out on his bike cursing not living in the countryside or boring anybody who will listen about the latest pro peloton/cycling tech/cycling infrastructure projects.